Breast Cancer Treatment
Breast cancer treatment is usually a multi-pronged approach. The most common breast cancer treatment plan, in this order, involves surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal therapy. But there are many different types of breast cancer, so there are many variations in treatment. Also, the stage of breast cancer (0 through IV) will determine which treatments are best.
Surgery is often the first step in breast cancer treatment. Removal of the lump and the cancerous tissue is imperative in most cases to keep the cancer from spreading any further. Depending on the stage (which is judged by the size and the spread of the disease) a woman with breast cancer may have a mastectomy or a lumpectomy.
A mastectomy is removal of the entire breast, where a lumpectomy saves the majority of breast tissue but removes only the lump itself and the very nearby affected breast tissue. A doctor will recommend which is the safest course of action for each type of cancer. A Stage I cancer, which has not spread beyond the lump maybe be treated with a lumpectomy and radiation, for instance, where a wider spread cancer like Stage IIB or III involves much more breast and surrounding tissues and may require a complete mastectomy for the best prognosis. During surgery, the surrounding lymph nodes may be removed as well, if the cancer could have spread to these areas. In some cases, the breast can be reconstructed during the cancer surgery or at a later time.
Chemotherapy is not always a part of breast cancer treatment. If the cancer was caught very early before it had spread into the tissues of the surrounding area or the lymph nodes, chemo may not be recommended. When it is, it’s the introduction of medication given through an IV that kills system-wide cancer cells that may have spread beyond the lump or tumor that was removed. Cancer cells divide rapidly, and the substance in the chemo therapy attacks those cells. There are side effects with chemotherapy, but there are medications that can help make these much milder than they used to be.
Radiation breast cancer treatment is usually the third stage, after surgery and chemo. This targets a specific area of the body, such as the breast, to destroy any remaining cancer cells. In some cases, surgery and radiation are given without chemotherapy, depending on how small and localized the cancer was.
The use of radiation can reduce the chances of breast cancer coming back by about 70%, and the side effects are local to the area treated, and often tolerated much better than chemo side effects.
For those with a hormone-receptor positive types of breast cancer, hormonal therapy is also given to help prevent recurrence. This therapy lowers the effectiveness and amount of estrogen in the system, which can help shrink any remaining cancer cells and prevent a relapse. For some types of this cancer, surgical removal of the reproductive organs may be an option, as well. For certain type of cancer, known as hormone-receptor negative cancer, hormonal therapy is ineffective and can even be harmful.